50 Cent's controversy helps drive up music industry sales -- Suburban music-lovers can't get enough ''fight entertainment,'' but at what cost?

By Raymond Fiore
Updated March 14, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: 50 Cent: Martin Schoeller/Corbis Outline

Right about now, the music industry should be hailing 50 Cent as a bona fide savior and phenomenon. Instead, they’re having unsettling flashbacks of Biggie and Tupac.

With a rare hat trick of hit singles crowding the top 5 and an astounding 1.14 million copies of his sophomore disc, The Massacre, snatched up in just four days, 50 Cent is one of the few bright spots in a depressed U.S. music market (year-to-date album sales are off 10.6 percent from 2004). Good news, right? Except that bad news came on Feb. 28, three days before Massacre‘s release, when 50 Cent essentially excommunicated his Compton labelmate and collaborator the Game on New York City radio station Hot 97 for having shown disloyalty to their G-Unit camp. By the end of the day, an associate of the Game had been shot in a standoff outside the station and bullets riddled the office building that houses 50’s management company, Violator. (Neither artist has been charged or connected to the shootings.) While 50 was already a sure bet for a No. 1 debut, the publicity surrounding the incidents gave the album an even higher profile, proving the alluring power that hip-hop beefs have over consumers.

”I do think that suburban America loves to peek into the urban lifestyle through these beefs — it provides the type of fight entertainment that America loves,” says attorney L. Londell McMillan, who reps battle-rap veteran Nas. ”[But] the notion that controversy will sell is way overrated.” Hip-hop radio and TV personality Ed Lover agrees: ”I don’t have a problem with competitive hip-hop. But when idiots start pulling out guns, it makes the music look bad.”

Sure, but what about those with the most to gain: labels and radio stations? ”There’s a lot of money to be made off of this stuff, whether it be Hot 97 boosting their ratings, or going back to Interscope, who are distributing these artists,” says hip-hop writer and historian Jeff Chang. 50 Cent, the Game, and Interscope would not comment, but a Hot 97 spokesman insisted it was hypocritical to say the influential station has become a danger magnet: ”The labels produce these albums and profit from them, the consumers purchase them, MTV plays the videos…. If folks are carrying guns around, that’s a larger issue than Hot 97.”